Albertans aren’t known for their opposition to oil wells, given crude’s importance to the province. Then again, most wells aren’t located behind a Wal-Mart and Sleep Country mattress store, let alone just steps from a residential neighbourhood. That’s the prospect facing residents of Calgary’s Royal Oak neighbourhood in the city’s northwest this summer as a deadline nears for a local oil company to drill a well virtually in their backyard. And much like opponents of high-profile projects such as the Northern Gateway through British Columbia and the Keystone XL pipeline into the U.S., they’re doing everything they can to stop it.
Drilling for oil in the suburbs might sound unusual, but with oil prices at near-record highs, energy companies are keen for new sources of crude anywhere they can find. Calgary, along with many other Alberta centres such as Red Deer and Medicine Hat, has plenty of the stuff. The company drilling in Royal Oak, Kaiser Exploration, estimates there could be up to six million barrels of oil in that well alone, enough to keep it active for the next 50 years.
Those living near the proposed well, many of whom work in the oil industry, have raised fears of air, water and noise pollution, as well as the lack of emergency response plans if something goes wrong. Property values are another concern: one study by the University of Alberta has found homes lose four to 16 per cent of their value after a well is drilled within four kilometres. While the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board, which regulates drilling in the province, has approved the well, the company has held off drilling until June to give time for the board to consider residents’ complaints.
In recent weeks, locals have won support from Sandra Jansen, the Progressive Conservative candidate for Calgary-North West in the upcoming provincial election, who called for the well to be suspended. But even in her opposition, Jansen was careful not to suggest oil wells in general pose any sort of threat. “While I don’t believe there is anything wrong with drilling wells near urban areas,” she said in a press release, “the circumstances in this case warrant additional due diligence.”
Still, in oil-soaked Alberta, the well’s opponents may be facing an uphill battle. According to the ERCB, Calgary already has 12 working wells within city limits, and another 100 on its outskirts.